Police in Zimbabwe have detained war veteran spokesman Douglas Mahiya, charging him with insulting President Robert Mugabe. The president had warned of "severe" punishment for recent critical remarks made by Mahiya.
Douglas Mahiya (above photo, center), information secretary of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), appeared in court on Friday on charges of undermining or insulting the authority of President Robert Mugabe. He faces up to a year in jail if found guilty.
"The accused is facing charges of undermining or insulting the president," prosecutor Tapiwa Kasema told the court. "The state is opposed to the granting of bail."
Kasema said as spokesman for the war veterans, Mahiya was responsible for distributing a statement with allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement after a veterans' meeting on July 21, accusing Mugabe of "dictatorial tendencies."
In response, Mugabe said that the previously loyal veterans who had criticized him would face severe punishment: "The punishment will be hard," he said at a rally on Wednesday.
Appearing handcuffed at the Harare Magistrates Court on Friday, Mahiya said he had been verbally abused by police while he was in custody. The magistrate ordered the state to investigate the claim, and said he would hear Mahiya's bail application on Saturday.
War veterans, who came to court to support Mahiya, sang outside the courthouse.
Contentious insult law
The charges against the veteran have been brought under the insult law, which has been challenged by activists at the Constitutional Court. The court has still to rule on whether the legislation limits individual freedoms.
Victor Matemadanda, ZNLWVA secretary-general, was also taken from his home on Thursday morning after being summoned for questioning.
The case comes in the wake of growing opposition to Mugabe over his plans to contest the 2018 presidential election.
Strikes and demonstrations protesting Zimbabwe's collapsing economy and allegations of corruption, the largest in nearly a decade, have been organized in recent weeks.
Zimbabwe pastor Evan Mawarire, who launched a critical social media campaign against the government before leaving the country for his own safety, told a crowd in South Africa on Thursday of how his country had been reduced to "horror and unimaginable disappointment."
jm/cmk (AFP, Reuters)